WHA tourney on hold

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

The World Hockey Association-sponsored Bobby Hull Invitational Tournament will not be played until early June, if at all.

WHA president Ricky Smith did not dispute there were organizational problems with the initial three-city, six-team event that was supposed to begin May 20, but blamed some of them on departed promoter Phil Esposito. The latter told the Toronto Sun that he'd walked away from the tournament in the first week in April because he allegedly hadn't been paid.

"He didn't quit, I fired him," an angry Smith said yesterday from Dusseldorf, Germany, where he was travelling on business. He disputes Esposito's claim he wasn't reimbursed.

As for the tournament, which was to have six celebrity National Hockey League captains pick teams from a pool of 60 locked out players, Smith said the rosters and venues can't be finalized by the original date. A plan to use Toronto's Ricoh Coliseum for a game or two won't likely go through, he said, and he's now concentrating on Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. Copps' officials confirmed talks are ongoing.

"The tournament is off for a couple of weeks," said Smith. "But we're fine. We also have a deposit on General Motors Place in Vancouver, but we might end up running the whole thing out of one rink, such as Copps, because this was to be at first an Ontario show."

Smith said he had erred in not keeping player agents abreast of delays and said he would contact some upon his return to Canada tomorrow.


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